The Rise of All-Female Coworking Spaces
WOMADE is far from alone in the European market of all-female coworking spaces. We exist in the context of at least 40 other European coworking and networking spaces only for women (womxn+). But do you know how they first started? Or when? Let's reflect a bit on these sanctuaries of female entrepreneurship.
What is a coworking space exactly? That's a good question and one that will have many different answers! In 2005, Brad Neuberg, the man credited with starting the first coworking space in the US, used the term to describe this new idea he had. As he described it, he wanted a work space where he had:
the freedom and independence of working for myself along with the structure and community of working with others. - Brad Neuberg
A Brief History of Coworking
Before we can dive into the feminist developments, it's good to know the cultural context of coworking spaces. Because ideas don't form from nothing! Let me highlight some of the big moments. For a more in depth look, check out the History of Coworking and Brad Neuberg's blog.
The 1980s saw what some refer to as the precursors of coworking: the office rental spaces provided by Regus. Little thought for the community sharing aspect of coworking, but right on the money with the growing need for rentable offices. The 90s sees a rise in experimental office spaces, trying to break the mold and push boundaries. It's also when the first hackerspaces start appearing, essentially computer engineers getting together to collaborate.
As the new millennium started, with Y2K successfully avoided, the first coworking spaces emerge.
Who gets the title of "first coworking space"? As per usual, it's debated. Some argue that it's a space's intent that matters, while other say it's the first usage of the word. The former is the case for Schraubenfabrik in Vienna in 2002, which hosted a space for entrepreneurs to come work and form a community. Across the pond, the feminist association, Spiral Muse, allowed Brad Neuberg to open up the San Francisco Coworking Space in 2005. A coworking space in concept AND name!
By 2007, there were reportedly ~75 coworking spaces worldwide and by 2010, more than 600.
In 2019, there were more than 19,000 and the numbers are expected to keeping rising.
So needless to say, the phenomenon caught on and coworking spaces are here to stay.
All-Female Coworking Spaces
The oldest reference I can find to a woman-focused coworking space is In Good Company, started in 2008 in NYC. Though there is sadly little information online about its mission or origins. In 2011, Hera Hub continued the trend, focusing largely on the community.
We're still building the story! European All-Female Coworking Spaces are on the Rise!
Thanks to the work of Ivanne Poussier, Sisters in Arms: Women in Search of Inclusive Coworking Spaces, we have a more in-depth look at how the movement has expanded across Europe.
She recorded more than 45 spaces exclusively dedicated to women. As she describes them:
Whether they call themselves Patronnes, #girlboss, chicks, badass or even Vikings, they claim their unique identity with strength, pride and a certain casualness.
Here's a quick list of all-female coworking spaces by country:
Why Have All-Female Coworking Spaces?
Because yes. Women have decided to shift away from mixed spaces for many reasons.
While women can work in traditional office spaces and the new coworking communities, these women-only coworking spaces offer them the chance to work in a community of their peers. We all face similar struggles related to our gender, so these places are an oasis where we can be ourselves. The business world and business culture have long been male dominated, so infiltrating it as a woman can pose particular problems.
Ivanne Poussier summarized it well:
In a context still marked by sexism, they hope to conquer a fairer place in society by gathering and sticking together. Whether in heels or sneakers, they are striving — each in their own way — for a more open and inclusive future of work. For these women warriors and artisans — whether they are entrepreneurs, freelancers, self-employed or in professional transition — women-focused coworking spaces offer an unprecedented training and base camp. Will you dare join the movement ?
The WOMADE community is full of entrepreneurial women uplifting each other.
An inspiring and safe space where we can focus on our work. Where we can hear about other women breaking through glass ceilings and get advice on navigating the harsh working world.
We're building a network of professional, kind, intelligent leaders at WOMADE.
It's all boss lady vibes, chez-nous.